Why You Shouldn't Ask About People's Scars
Why You Shouldn't Ask About People's Scars

No Right to Know: Why Someone’s Scars are None of Your Business

No matter how harmless your intentions are, asking about scars risks resurfacing past physical and emotional trauma.
March 3, 2016
8 mins read

Nobody has a Right to Know About Your Scars

No matter how harmless your intentions are, asking about scars risks resurfacing past physical and emotional trauma.

By Jessinta Smith, Suffolk Community College

“Hey, Jess, what happened to your feet?”

The first person to ask about my scars was my younger brother. We were on vacation, and it was my first time in flip-flops in a year. I panicked as my twelve-year old brother stood waiting for an answer. I felt like I was stuttering for minutes, but it was really only a few seconds. My face was getting red and hot. I couldn’t tell him the truth. The truth wasn’t okay for a twelve year old.

“I dropped a glass on them!”

I vomited my answer out like a drunk sorority girl at a frat party. That was my answer and it was good enough, because that was the end of the discussion. Little did I know it was just the first of many others, all of which were started when a girl tried to control a life that was being torn apart and couldn’t find a healthy way to cope.

When I was fourteen my abusive mom died; when I was fifteen my high school career spiraled and when I was sixteen I started to cut. I would cut my feet because it was the easiest place to hide. I chose cutting because I didn’t do drugs or drink, and it became my one way to get a high. I was a junky, and my junk was a pair of safety scissors that scraped across my skin until I was satisfied.

Thankfully, I got better after a few years. I graduated high school at sixteen, got into therapy and I officially stopped self-harming at the age of 18. But that part of my life didn’t just disappear. I still have scars, and they were still going to be spoken about.

I heard a voice calling out to me in the middle of the busy office. “Yo, what happened to your feet?”

Well fuck! Right now? You had to ask me that now? We’re at work. In the middle of the office. You had to ask me in front of everyone else here? Are you shitting me?

My mind was racing. I didn’t know the person asking on anything more than a co-worker basis. I felt the throat-tightening anxiety lurch up from my core. I spat out my “I-dropped-a-glass-on-them-when-I-was-younger” answer.

I felt my face turning red. The anxiety inside of my stomach was stirring, reminding me of my past. I remembered quickly that I will always have that part of my life, and people will always be able to see it. It made me feel like an anxious piece of shit. It would make anyone feel that way.

So, dear reader, I have a proposition. It’s a little crazy, but it will have a positive impact.

Please stop asking people about their scars. Stop asking where they are from, what they are, if they hurt, if they’re regretted and really anything else you can think to ask another human about marks on their body. Stop asking about something that isn’t yours.

If someone wants to tell you about their scars, that’s amazing and you should feel honored. But don’t fucking ask. Don’t question them, don’t push for more information, and if you do, figure that you are going to be lied to.

You don’t have any right to know the truth. You are not entitled to knowledge about a body other than your own. Asking someone about their scars is invasive, tantamount in pain and insensitivity to evaluating the seriousness of a wound by poking at it.

For many people scars are more intimate than nudity, and asking about them can lead to a reaction that mirrors the experience of PTSD. Questions trigger terrible memories and feelings that send people back to their place of self-hatred, which adds to the hatred of the scarred areas and the body in general.

Questioning someone’s scars is like sending them back into a hole and then following them into it. Even casual inquiries are an invasion of privacy, and they can cause a landslide of old, destructive emotions, which can bring up feelings that no one knew existed—feelings that they might have been working for years to properly deal with.

On top of the internal pain is the reality that all these complicated feelings must be parsed out immediately, as a crowd is waiting on your answer.

The anxiety of the question changes the entire atmosphere and can lead to a panic attack.

It’s like if your mom ever asked about your sex life in that you don’t want to answer, but you have to. You have to share every detail of who, what, when, where and why with her.

You can lie and say you’re a virgin. It won’t be a believable lie, but everyone will go along with it, just thankful to avoid the discomfort, the same way they go along with you saying that you dropped glass on both your feet.

You will be reminded of all the horrible things you did and all of the gross people you did them with. You’ll be hit with a wave of shame because you know you shouldn’t have done them—the people or the things—which is why, when someone asks about your scars, that the result is a cluster-fuck of negative emotions.

These feelings take a long time to go away, and sometimes they don’t go away. People learn how to work through them, allowing the feelings to sleep peacefully, but it can take years to learn how to correctly cope and only one question to completely undo everything.

So please, don’t ask people about their scars because it’s none of your business. Not your body, not your business. Even the most innocently motivated question can bring up horrible memories that can trigger negative emotions that can lead to harmful actions. If you want to ask a question, ask about someone’s dog, or their life or their beliefs, but leave their scars out of the picture.

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